Houston community grieves after Sri Lanka bombings

By Sally Mamdooh - Reporter, AP Author

HOUSTON - Sri Lankans in Houston held a special ceremony Sunday night to pay tribute to those killed and injured in several attacks on Easter Sunday.

One of the people attending the ceremony knew three of the people who were killed in the eight bomb blasts that rocked churches and luxury hotels. The bombings were the deadliest violence the South Asian island country has seen since a bloody civil war ended a decade ago.

At the ceremony, candles outlined the shape of the small island of Sri Lanka at the Houston Buddhist Temple to pay tribute to the bombing victims.

Local Sri Lankans prayed for healing.

"We invited you to come and participate in this service. It is meant to send good energy to the entire country," Monk Basnagorda Rahula said.
  
Rahula led the service.

"We are so much saddened by such tragedy as the one in Sri Lanka," Rahula said. "This is very tragic and this is senseless."

Among those bowing their heads was Nivantha Rowel, who grew up attending St. Anthony's Church in the country's capital of Colombo. His former church was among the three churches bombed on Easter Sunday.

"The place is more peaceful, calm and quiet. One of the most sacred places among the Catholic community in Sri Lanka. No one ever expected that to happen at the church," Rowel said.

His grief goes even deeper -- Rowel knew three victims.

"Mother, father, child. They all died," he said.

It's a loss that leaves him speechless.

Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardena described the bombings as a terrorist attack by religious extremists, and police said 13 suspects were arrested, though there was no immediate claim of responsibility. Wijewardena said most of the blasts were believed to have been suicide attacks.

The explosions at three churches and three hotels -- most of them in or around Colombo, the capital -- collapsed ceilings and blew out windows, killing worshippers and hotel guests in one scene after another of smoke, soot, blood, broken glass, screams and wailing alarms. Victims were carried out of blood-spattered pews.

Most of those killed were Sri Lankans. But the three hotels and one of the churches, St. Anthony's Shrine, are frequented by foreign tourists, and Sri Lanka's Foreign Ministry said the bodies of at least 27 people from a variety of other countries were recovered. The U.S. said "several" Americans were among the dead, while Britain, China and Portugal said they, too, lost citizens.

The Sri Lankan government imposed a nationwide curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and blocked Facebook and other social media, saying it needed to curtail the spread of false information and ease tension in the country of about 21 million people.

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